J Brooks Spector recently wrote a piece on Johnnie Carson, US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa. “America’s Mr Africa,” he called the subject. But the US is no friend to Africa. It turns a blind eye to violence, dictatorship and corruption unless there’s something substantial to be gained from intervention or unless there’s a common enemy. And it’s a bad time for this kind of starry-eyed misconception.
Would Barack Obama’s re-election advance African democracy and prosperity? Evidence suggests not, but the alternative in the November 6 election would be worse.
Obama’s most important important policy speech on Africa, in Ghana in 2009, contained the famous line, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”
And according to Daily Maverick reporter Brooks Spector, Obama’s top Africa official, Johnnie Carson last month claimed that “the US wants to work with African nations to strengthen democratic institutions, good governance and efforts to stamp out corruption [and] to spur economic growth through market-driven, free trade principles.”
Ha ha. Washington’s deregulatory support for Wall Street’s market-driven binge and purge in 2008-09 contributed to the worst global economic crash in 80 years, resulting in around a million South African job losses. And official data reveal that the top 1% snagged 93% of all new income in the US since 2009, because the rancid system wasn’t fixed by a president in hock to banksters.
“Free trade principles”? Who can forget White House support for the vast ongoing agro-corporate subsidies which thwart African production? And as for corruption, is there any capital city whose political system is more conclusively bought by corporate campaign contributions than Washington, resulting in such extreme malgovernance that Obama cannot even make an effort to convict a single banker for world-historic economic misdeeds?
Carson’s most flawed economic assumption is that through increased vulnerability to chaotic world capitalism, “Africa” grows. Although a few elites have certainly grown rich from extraction, we can test this with a simple adjustment to Gross Domestic Product (GDP): incorporating the depletion of Africa’s “natural capital.” Even the World Bank’s 2011 book, The Changing Wealth of Nations, concedes that after this adjustment, instead of growing rapidly, as often claimed by naive commentators, Africa is shrinking even faster: conservatively estimated for 2008 at a negative 6% of GDP.
The continent-wide Resource Curse requires tyrants to keep the masses in their places for the sake of multinational corporate extraction. Thanks to White House patronage, murderous African dictators still retain power until too late, most obviously Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who is personally worth at least $40 billion (according to an ABC News report) and received many billions of dollars in US military aid in the 18 months following Obama’s speech.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Mubaraks “friends of my family” and, a few days before the corrupt tyrant was overthrown in February 2011, proclaimed, “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable.”
Another case is Gambian president Yahya Jammeh, an army colonel who after overthrowing a democrat in 1994 and later falsely claiming to have found an AIDS cure, recently began executing political prisoners. Washington was quiet, I reckon, because of the Central Intelligence Agency ’s reliance upon a Banjul airport as a secret site for “rendition”, i.e. the illegal transfer of suspected terrorists to countries – including a dozen in Africa – carrying out torture or holding prisoners on behalf of Washington.
In the same spirit, last March, as the Arab Spring wave moved east from Tunisia, Obama backed the Djibouti regime of Ismail Omar Guelleh against pro-democracy protesters, apparently because the tiny dictatorship hosts several thousand US African Command (AfriCom) troops at Washington’s only solely-owned base in Africa.
These troops are increasingly active, yet the US Air University’s Strategic Studies Quarterly carried a 2010 article by Major Shawn T. Cochran citing one of Washington’s military advisors to the African Union: “We don’t want to see our guys going in and getting whacked… We want Africans to go in.” (Mali is next, probably in coming days: blowback from last year’s Libya intervention.)
Obama also infamously extended red-carpet treatment to world-class kleptocrat tyrant Ali Bongo 15 months ago, thanks to Gabon’s oil reserves. This was followed by a similarly controversial invitation in April to Ethiopia’s then prime minister Meles Zenawi, rebuffing valid complaints from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International leaders: “The US, World Bank, and other states and institutions have shown little or no attention to Ethiopia’s worsening human rights record.”
Washington’s support for Rwandan strongman Paul Kagame includes $800 million a year in aid and in June 2012, Obama’s protection against possible UN censure for supporting genocide in the Congo, attracting complaints by respected social justice. Uganda got $45 million and four drones in spite of Yoweri Museveni’s dictatorial rule.
And last year, citing US national security interests, Obama issued a waiver for more than $200 million in military aid to allied regimes in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, South Sudan and Yemen in spite of a 2008 US law prohibiting such funding because of their armies’ abuse of child soldiers.
This hypocrisy is better understood thanks to WikiLeaks, which two years ago published more than 250,000 US State Department cables, showing, for instance, how Washington’s embassies in Africa collect fingerprints, DNA, iris scans, email passwords, credit card account numbers, work schedules and even frequent flyer numbers of local political, military, business and religious leaders. (For evidence-based anti-imperialists, they’re a gold mine – which in future Spector should dig for background on his subjects.)
WikiLeaks also revealed that during a February 2010 meeting with Meles in Addis Ababa, “Carson encouraged Meles to hasten steps to liberalise the telecommunications and banking industries in Ethiopia.” Caron’s additional objective, agreed by Meles, was replacing the Kyoto Protocol’s binding cap on greenhouse gas emissions with the non-binding Copenhagen Accord, even if refusal to address climate change will result in the preventable death of 185 million Africans this century, according to Christian Aid.
Obama’s administration is a rotten fusion of the worst forces within both neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. But I sincerely hope that next month, he soundly defeats Mitt Romney, who is worse on all counts – except the ability to confuse people in Africa, who might still think Washington acts in their interests. DM
* Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society
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Patrick is senior professor of development studies and directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society, and recently authored Politics of Climate Justice (UKZN Press, 2012) and edited Durban's Climate Gamble (Unisa Press, 2011). Other books include Elite Transition, Unsustainable South Africa, Looting Africa, Against Global Apartheid, Zimbabwe's Plunge and Talk Left Walk Right.
"Look for lessons about haunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become haunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance and communication." ~ Avery Gordon